Monday, 18 July 2011
But the minute I arrived back on Sunday night I sneaked a quick look at the latest tweets and discovered the story hadn’t let up for a second. Not only had Rebekah Brooks been arrested and questioned for nine hours but Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson had just resigned. By Monday the story looked set to run and run, with Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Brooks all set to appear before the Parliamentary select committee for Culture, Media and Sport on Tuesday and MPs meeting in emergency session on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments.
One point that’s struck me forcibly in recent days though is the importance of journalism training. When I started out as a reporter 25 years ago virtually everyone cut their journalistic teeth on local newspapers. I trained with Mirror Group Newspapers alongside spin-doctor-to-be Alastair Campbell, his partner Fiona Millar and a host of other ambitious young trainees. We spent eight weeks in a tatty-looking Portakabin on a Plymouth industrial estate getting up to speed with shorthand (Alastair cracked 100 wpm way before anyone else), law, local government and how to report fairly and accurately, before being dispatched off to weekly newspapers across the West Country for two years.
During my days on the Mid-Devon Advertiser, a newspaper based in Newton Abbot and edited with great panache by former Morning Star journalist Lance Samson, I learned how to write a news story, how to cover a court case and how to interview and quote people correctly. It wasn’t glamorous or ultra-exciting but it taught me the journalistic skills I needed - and still use a quarter of a century later. It also meant that by the time we made it to Fleet Street we were professional reporters who knew what we were doing.
Lance (father of novelist Polly Samson) could easily have thrown up his hands in horror at the inexperienced trainees thrust into his news room. But he was generous with his time, encouragement and support. He was a stickler for doing things by the book too. One day my fellow trainee Keith was sent home from the office for wearing a polo-neck instead of a shirt and tie. “What would happen if I had to send you out to interview the Archbishop of Canterbury?” demanded Lance (slightly unlikely considering we were based in a sleepy mid-Devon town where the most exciting thing to happen most weeks was the planning committee meeting, but still.)
In the second year of our training we progressed from our weekly papers to the heady heights of the Sunday Independent, which covered the whole of the South West. It was the era of the Falklands War and while we spent much of our time writing stories about golden weddings and village fetes, Alastair showed his star quality by scooping Fleet Street's finest on a story about Prince Andrew. It was obvious he was going places even then.